Advertisement

What’s next for the Lakers and injured Russell Westbrook

Los Angeles Lakers' Russell Westbrook watches a free throw during second half of an NBA preseason.
Russell Westbrook watches a free throw during a preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 12.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Share

Last season, every missed Russell Westbrook shot in Sacramento was met with the chorus of Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” playing over the Golden 1 Center’s speakers.

The Lakers were met Friday with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” during introductions, and somehow the track was too upbeat for what would unfold over the next 48 minutes.

Coach Darvin Ham cashed in some of the credibility he built with Russell Westbrook, convincing the former MVP to come off the bench, only to see him injure his hamstring five minutes into his first stint as a reserve.

Between Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota and Friday’s preseason finale with Sacramento, three rotation players, including All-Star forward Anthony Davis. were ruled out because of injury.

The 133-86 loss to Sacramento to end the preseason should cause serious alarms to go off.

Advertisement

Shooting woes followed the team through much of the preseason, just like last season, enough misses on good looks to wonder if this was just more than a cold spell. Injuries, another one of the defining storylines from last season, kept the team from logging meaningful minutes together. Despite a mandate for daily improvement and consistent competitiveness and effort, the Lakers two worst performances came in their last two games before the regular season.

Russell Westbrook came off the bench in the Lakers’ final preseason game in ‘an exploratory move,’ but he quickly left because of a hamstring injury.

Oct. 14, 2022

Internally, the Lakers are projecting calm — even exaggerating it in one instance.

“No frustrating part of the process,” Patrick Beverley told The Times after the game Friday. “Nothing’s been frustrating. Everything’s been perfect.”

But the Lakers went 1-5, the wins and losses easier to count than Ham’s preferred measuring system of “wisdom and lessons” — the Lakers showing enough at times to reward optimism before heading into the season without any momentum.

“We had some great moments, some good moments, some not-so-good moments, but we’re a team that’s going to continue to learn from each other,” LeBron James said after the loss. “Every day, we’ve got to stack days. We’ve got to get better every day either in practice out on the floor or in film sessions or whatever the case might be, move forward. But it begins now. The season is here. We’ve got to get better.”

James listed a group of Western Conference teams that’ll enter the regular season with more continuity than his Lakers, a list so long that he forgot to include the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. How this team ends up competing with them, though, is up in the air.

One path depends on internal growth, the team counting on Davis (back) and Lonnie Walker IV (ankle) being ready for the opener with Dennis Schroder (finger) and Troy Brown Jr. (back) eventually joining them. While Westbrook will be reevaluated Saturday, Ham said the nine-time All-Star guard was optimistic about his hamstring postgame.

“The biggest thing is for us to get back whole.” Ham said. “I really feel like we made some really good strides and implementing our new system offensively and defensively. And once we get our main guys out there together in rhythm, things will be a little bit different for sure. And again, we’re at the starting blocks of a marathon.

“It’s going to take some time.”

Russell Westbrook’s awkward moment during Lakers’ huddle is nothing to worry about. The Times examined why the video is misleading.

Oct. 14, 2022

Yet what is the stomach for early-season lumps, a tough schedule paired with a new coach and intense scrutiny and speculation on Westbrook, either in regard to his role on the Lakers or in a trade out of L.A.?

Moving him to the second unit, even if it was just an experiment, wasn’t an inconsequential decision. Westbrook came off the bench for the first time after he took over for the Thunder 17 games into his rookie season in 2008.

For now, Ham said Westbrook handled the move gracefully. While it was just a blink Friday, he did seem more aggressive than he was Wednesday when he meekly attempted just three shots.

Advertisement

“We discussed it yesterday and it’s something we’ve touched on during the summer here and there,” Ham said pregame. “He’s been a pro, man. Russ is one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever come across in this business, on and off the floor. He totally understood. Totally looked me in the eye and said, ‘Yeah, coach, whatever you need me to do.’”

That kind of move usually demands results, and it’s fair to wonder how understanding anyone would be in Westbrook’s position if he’s coming off the bench and the team is still struggling.

At least for one night, none of this counted — literally because a technical glitch knocked out the NBA’s statistics system leaguewide. The postgame box score was a photocopy of the official handwritten scorer’s book.

By the time the season starts Tuesday, presumably the system will be back up and running.

The Lakers? That might be another story.

Advertisement